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Categories
Feminist Practices

Forging a Path of Her Own

Christina Stembel, Founder of Farmgirl Flowers

 

Christina Stembel had a business idea: Bring beautiful, handmade floral arrangements to people who wanted a higher quality than supermarket bouquets and more personal than a floral distribution company. With $50,000 of her own money, she made Farmgirl Flowers happen.

“I used to get dejected about the fact that I couldn’t raise capital as a sole female founder without a pedigree,” says Stembel, who keeps a spreadsheet of the 101 investors and venture capital firms that have turned her down. “But I realized it was just my ego. There’s a myth that if you don’t get VC funding, you can’t be successful, but we’ve grown to $30 million in annual revenue with 50 percent or more growth year over year.”

Though Stembel has had to manage the growth of her San Francisco-based company carefully, funding it with her own savings and the company’s profits has meant that every choice about its growth has been hers to make. “I get to make decisions based on what’s right, not just what’s going to look good to investors,” she says. “My goal is to create a company that I would want to personally buy from, sell to, and work at.”

And that’s what she’s doing: She pays vendors on time, instead of asking for a 90-day payment term, so that the farmers who supply her flowers can pay their own bills; she waited until she could offer her staff of 150 employees full medical benefits and 401ks with a company match before drawing a salary; and she’s created hiring guidelines that don’t require employees to have a degree (high school nor college) or a home address.

Stembel’s story is a typical one for women entrepreneurs. A new study called “Beyond the Bucks”—sponsored by Bank of America and authored by Lakshmi Balachandra, an assistant professor of entrepreneurship at Babson College and former associate at a venture capital firm—looks at why VC funders aren’t investing in women-led startups and how women manage to succeed despite that. The study tackled this disparity: Women own 39 percent of all privately held firms in the US, yet received only 2.2 percent of the $130 billion in venture capital invested in 2018. The situation is slightly better for women owning or leading startups in Canada; they received a measly seven percent of all venture capital.

The study interviewed 30 women entrepreneurs across North America who have achieved annual revenue of more than $5 million. That’s the rubber-meets-the-road spot, according to the study, where “revenue naturally plateaus and the toughest test comes.” All participants in this study soared past that mark; their companies boast average revenues of $43 million. The study’s goals were simple: understand the difficulties faced by women entrepreneurs in the male-dominated world of startups and identify the strategies women use to overcome those obstacles. Without an injection of VC cash, many of the women in the study found a different and perhaps more satisfying path to success through organic growth, which allowed them to explicitly consider the needs and well-being of their employees and communities—factors that male-driven companies tend to consider as second-tier metrics.

The study found that women entrepreneurs faced three major systematic roadblocks to success.

The first we know all too well: network exclusion. That’s the classic “It’s who you know, not what you know” world, otherwise known as the “boys’ club” where deals happen, usually in places men like to socialize, such as the golf course or over drinks.

The second is less well known but no less harmful: market misperceptions. That refers to the double disenfranchising of women founders. Investors discredit their ideas and leadership simply because they are women. Then investors fail to take women-led startups seriously due to gendered assumptions about the markets women entrepreneurs serve. Business guys call it the “the mommy market,” their blatant sexism blinding them to the fact that women drive some 80 percent of consumer spending. That’s a mother load of a market that women entrepreneurs are clearly positioned to tap into. Take for instance Spanx founder Sara Blakely, who had difficulty attracting investors for what would become a multi-billion-dollar business.

But it’s not just VC funders overlooking—or, more to the point, not seeing—women entrepreneurs. Balachandra points to the Forbes Most Innovative Leaders of 2019 list as an example. Out of 100 featured leaders, only one woman made that list. “How did they come up with the list?” she asks, laughing. “It’s written by two white men. [They] started with Fortune 500 companies, of which less than 10 percent are run by women. And at some point, the publisher, who is also a white man, saw the list and said, ‘Yep, this is who we want to highlight.’” In other words, their starting point to defining innovation left out half the population.

And that underlines the third major roadblock women founders face, which is the hardest to overcome: managing expansion with underfunding. Even women entrepreneurs who successfully hurdle over the first two roadblocks to launch a viable business still find themselves systematically locked out of the traditional venture capital system, according to Balachandra.

So how does a superheroine entrepreneur grow her company by leaps and bounds without the extension ladder of VC capital? Without outside investment to catapult strategy and development, women founders often bootstrap their firms, using their own personal savings to launch their enterprises. Then they pour business profits into growing their companies and sales organically.

While hugely difficult, following that strategy has a considerable upside for feminist founders. Through organic growth, founders can maintain ownership and control of their companies and embrace slow expansion, investing more consciously in human capital along the way. For the study, Stephanie Kaplan Lewis, co-founder and CEO of Her Campus Media, explained the approach her company took and how it worked well for her. “There were some years where we didn’t grow as much as we would’ve liked, but at the same time, we also were profitable for 10 consecutive years. We’ve never had to lay anyone off,” said Kaplan Lewis.

For all the benefits, that strategy rarely earns the industry respect that hyper-growth (grow big, sell fast) “unicorns” command, even though companies that grow organically, by definition, produce actual profits and have proven value in the marketplace, unlike investor favourites like WeWork or Amazon, who have enjoyed VC investment while operating in the red for years. Balachandra blames that credibility gap on our fixation with a “traditionally masculine way of thinking.” And there’s a big downside to that, as it “leads us to overvalue these unicorns or venture-backed startups because they were the ones who could get the support of these big investors, who are 94 percent men.”

Balachandra says the metrics that male-dominated VC firms use to target investments are heavily weighted towards financial performance and overlook other indicators of company performance and value such as employee retention, stakeholder satisfaction, and environmental impact. While women-led firms often perform well on the latter, their businesses often get passed over for initial investments that can spur rapid growth. And that won’t change, Balachandra says, until we have more women in decision-making roles.

So What’s A Women Entrepreneur to Do?

It will take time to infiltrate the masthead of business magazines and knock the sexism out of male VC investors; in the meantime, women entrepreneurs have found other options to grow their businesses.

If they can’t bootstrap a startup with personal savings, they can pursue debt, though that’s not without big downsides; while it does allow a founder to keep control of her company, debt can be expensive to service. And also difficult to even get if you are a woman. Balachandra explains that women founders often face that “having the right connections” roadblock, especially if their company doesn’t have sufficient assets to secure the amount of money that they need. Said Stembel: “I can’t get a bank loan because [Farmgirl Flowers doesn’t] pattern-match what banks are looking for.” She cites a lack of personal assets and big advance purchase orders (“Our orders come in within a week of when they’re delivered”). While government-sponsored lending programs exist, such as the Small Business Administration in the US, their interest rates are not cheap.

Women can also fund growth by trying to negotiate lines of credit with suppliers, though they often crash into roadblock one again: the boys’ club. “Women we talked to for the study told us that they found that people weren’t willing to extend those lines of credit to a woman or to someone they were less familiar with,” says Balachandra.

Another option for women leading startups is to find individual investors, sometimes called angel investors, but again, angel investors are more often men (77 percent), and male angel investors have considerable more wealth to invest (cutting checks 41 percent greater than their women counterparts, according to a 2017 study by the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania). And roadblocks one through three suggest those deep-pocketed male angel investors are more likely to invest in male-led enterprises.

But men–and women—who avoid investing in women’s startups are missing out not only on the chance to back powerful, industry-shaping startups but to potentially get big returns on their investment. Take Aden & Anais. When Raegan Moya-Jones couldn’t attract traditional investors for her new baby product company, she was forced to build the business on her own. Now, she is able to reap all the financial benefits, telling the study she “ended up a very successful entrepreneur…[after] build[ing] a business from scratch that now generates over $100 million in annual revenue.”

Where there is considerable will, women entrepreneurs often find a way to succeed, as Stembel, Kaplan Lewis, Moya-Jones, and the 27 other women interviewed for the study show. But their paths were considerably more difficult as systemic, sexist obstacles slowed or blocked their progress and those of many others.

Interestingly, when women entrepreneurs do make it, against all the odds, they tend to pay it forward to the people and communities that made their success possible. According to the Wharton study, women who have made enough money to become investors themselves consider a founders’ gender to be seven times more important than men do. And women investors place more than twice as much importance on social impact as men do.

We think that means investing in female-led startups helps women make the world a better place. Double win.


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Categories
Allied Arts & Media

Moving Pictures: What We Learned from Women Filmmakers at TIFF 2019

Cynthia Erivo (Harriet) on the red carpet in at TIFF 2019 in Toronto. Photo by Frazer Harrison

Last year, the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and its counterparts in Cannes and Venice committed to achieving gender parity in film selections by 2020, signing the historic 5050×2020 agreement. With the Share Her Journey fundraising campaign, TIFF created the Micki Moore Residency (for female screenwriters), the inaugural TIFF Talent Accelerator (for female directors, producers, and writers), and achieved gender parity in both the TIFF Filmmaker Lab and TIFF’s programming team.

Despite those initiatives, the total number of female-fronted films barely nudged up from 35 to 37 percent at TIFF, a fact lamented by TIFF’s own co-head, Joana Vicente. In 2019, Venice selected only two films by female directors for its 21-film competition while Cannes selected four out of 19. Unlike Vicente, the heads of Cannes and Venice argued that redressing exclusion by quotas alone could dilute quality.

Women directors enjoyed the last laugh at that, with Manele Labidi’s Arab Blues winning Venice’s audience choice award, and Mati Diop taking the Grand Prix at Cannes for her film Atlantics, while also making history as the first Black woman director to compete at Cannes.

Here at LiisBeth, we wondered what happens when women get the opportunity to direct the storytelling? Do film plots, points of view, and ideas shift? And what might feminist entrepreneurs directing enterprises of their own take away from these narratives?

Five Films, Five Takeaways

At TIFF 2019, many international films made by women rejected facile notions of “girl power” or “leaning in” in favour of more dissonant, challenging plots. Take this cross-section of five films, which unsettle assumptions about who women are, what we can achieve, and what our models for work can be.


Arab Blues: Things Rarely Go According to Plan

I can see why French-Tunisian director Manele Labidi’s bittersweet comedy won the audience choice award at Venice. It was my favourite, too.

The film follows young, intrepid Selma (Golshifteh Farahani), who studied in Paris for 10 years, as she returns to her hometown in Tunis to start her own psychotherapy practice for locals, post-revolution.

Challenges abound. The labyrinthine licensing bureaucracy forces Selma to work around the law. Locals are amused or irritated by her services. Yet her sessions soon become truly rewarding moments in the film. They not only reveal the limits of Selma’s tacit mentor, Freud (whose portrait hangs on her office wall), but also how she is an outsider in her own hometown.

Ultimately, Selma’s status as an outsider helps her forge her own path and build a more culturally nuanced “talking cure.” Starting from a vague desire to “help,” Selma learns why she really chose this path, which deepens both her practice and her clients’ lives.

The takeaway: Entrepreneurs know that the best laid (business) plans can fall apart fast. Many opportunities must be seen—and seized—on the fly. Only much later can we see why we started.


How to Build a Girl: Success at Your Own Expense Equals Failure

Courtesy of Protagonist Pictures

Coky Giedroyc’s UK film brings to life Caitlin Moran’s semi-autobiographical novel. Working-class ’90s teenager Johanna (a dynamite Beanie Feldstein) morphs into “Dolly Wilde,” a mean-spirited music journalist alter ego. Her scathing review of Queen, for example, bears the withering headline, “Bohemian Crapsody.”

Discussions of entrepreneurship often emphasize the value of failure. How to Build a Girl, however, reveals that failing can be a lot harder for a working-class girl stuck among posh bros. For Johanna, there’s no safety net if she doesn’t win, yet dudes set the terms for that “win.”

The more Johanna becomes Dolly, and the more men reward her, the more we see all the problems of her “success.” That makes for a refreshing feminist rebuke: Don’t mistake sexist cynicism for intelligence, let alone success.

No spoilers, but this well-written script will have women, especially those who’ve had to play “one of the guys,” cheering on nerdy, smart-girl Johanna long past the closing credits.

The takeaway: Trying to become someone you’re not isn’t worth it—even if all signs point to a win.


 Harriet: Don’t Lead Later, Lead Now


After directing the haunting Eve’s Bayou in 1997, Kasi Lemmons joined a coterie of Black American filmmakers who seemed on the cusp of transforming the film industry. Sadly that did not materialize thanks to persistent Hollywood racism.

Lemmons’ latest, Harriet, suggests a new day. It’s a suspenseful biopic of Harriet Tubman, who escaped slavery and then returned to lead others to freedom along the Underground Railroad. Indeed, Harriet begs the question of why it took so long for the story of this amazing woman to reach the big screen.

Played with verve and grit by Cynthia Erivo, the diminutive Harriet displays a fierce will to eliminate slavery. Underestimated, even by herself at first, she begins in fear-driven flight, and then buoyed by faith and success, dives undaunted into leadership.

Harriet illustrates and intertwines three layers of Black female leadership—Harriet Tubman, Erivo in an Oscar-worthy performance, and Lemmons as auteur. For all three, defeat should have been inevitable, but they persevered.

The takeaway (in Harriet’s words): “I’ve come this far on my own, so don’t you dare tell me what I can’t do.”


Atlantics: Communities, Not Individuals, Generate Heroism


For those in social justice–driven enterprises, it’s hard to keep fighting the good fight, day after day. Directed by Mati Diop, this Senegalese-French-Belgian co-production, which won the Grand Prix at Cannes, is both ghost story and love story, a poetic, magical take on how we can keep on pressing on—if we don’t try to go it alone.

Atlantics opens with several men demanding, but not receiving, unpaid wages for their work on a half-finished high-rise in Dakar. From there, we see the relentless, sun-bleached ocean. Crashing waves foreshadow how the men will soon be doomed refugees, a juxtaposition that drives two star-crossed lovers apart.

Or do they part? Atlantics dives into magical realism to suggest that unresolved historical trauma will have the last say. Mourning women left behind start to embody the men’s ghosts—and demand retribution. Eschewing realism, Atlantics offers a powerful, poignant parable.

The takeaway: By acting as a community, substantive social change can unfold.


Three Summers: Adversity Can Reveal Surprising Allies


We don’t always know who our allies are until push comes to shove, and those who show up may not be whom we expect.

This Brazilian-French film, directed by Sandra Kogut, offers a canny exploration of class struggle. The legendary Regina Casé plays Madá, the lead housekeeper at a wealthy resort in Rio de Janeiro. Over three summers, we see how her boss’s white-collar crimes affect but do not defeat Madá.

Based on the real-life Operation Car Wash investigation in Rio, Three Summers isn’t interested in rich criminals. They’re more sad sacks than masterminds. Instead, the film spends time with the staff, mostly women led by Madá. They are as pragmatic and resourceful as they are funny and kind, even when caught in the crossfire.

Madá transitions from identifying with her employers to supporting her coworkers and strikes up a friendship with her ex-boss’s elderly father, Lira. He’s abandoned—like the staff—and considered useless by his own self-absorbed family. Three Summers builds a plucky collective of who’s left behind, and how they survive this failed (last?) resort.

The takeaway: Allies take surprising forms. We need to stay connected to those who show up for the hard work, for these allies will prove far more valuable in the end.

That’s a wrap! If you attended TIFF, what films made you leave the theatre inspired and ready to act?


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Categories
Activism & Action Feminist Practices

Breaking Bad Silence

Cherry Rose Tan

In the span of four months, Cherry Rose Tan was involved in a major car accident, lost her brother unexpectedly on Christmas Day, and found out her mother had stage three cancer. Her grief was unlike anything she had ever felt before, so she decided to turn to her colleagues in the tech industry for support. But she didn’t know where to go or who to talk to. That’s when she realized the sad truth: Nobody in tech talks about this stuff.

So Tan, an executive coach in Toronto who helps entrepreneurs get past their personal and professional roadblocks, started For Founders By Founders in 2018. She defines it as a movement to get tech founders, investors, and executive directors to talk to her about their mental health struggles—and agree to publish their story online.

“There’s some serious mental health breakdowns and emotional suffering that happens in my industry,” says Tan. “People come to a point in their success where they’ve spent so long in a place of drive and doing and achieving more, that they’re really disconnected from their emotions and what it means to be human.”

Tan wanted to end this systemic silence, but prompting entrepreneurs to open up about their struggles wasn’t easy. Says Tan: “One investor said to me, ‘I love what you’re doing, but I need to be real with you. I don’t think you’re going to get a single person to pledge their mental health story.’”

She refused to believe that. “We don’t have to settle for an industry where the best we can do is have founders cope with alcohol and drugs and do their healing in bathrooms.”

Tan knew she was tapping into something huge. Research by psychiatrist Dr. Michael Freeman, who specializes in mental health issues and illnesses among entrepreneurs in the US, found that 72 percent of entrepreneurs struggled with mental health. They were also twice as likely to suffer from depression and experience suicidal thoughts than non-entrepreneurs.

People may go into entrepreneurship for the freedom it can offer, but what’s rarely discussed is how often that journey comes with seemingly insurmountable stress, burnout, and crippling loneliness. Stigma and shame around mental health often keeps people from getting treatment when they need it.

To start her venture, Tan reached out to a few people she knew had gone through something deeply personal and asked them if they were willing to talk about it in a one-on-one interview. It took four months before she secured her first subject (or champion, as she likes to call them); within a year and a half, she had convinced 65 people to share their stories, including CEOs of multi-million-dollar companies. Tech leaders opened up about an array of challenges: abusive families, postpartum depression, eating disorders, painful divorces, losing a parent, the immense pressures of running a company, and being responsible for so many people’s livelihoods.

So far, Tan has published 20 of those stories online at pledgeyourstory.com. She is currently working on a podcast slated for release in November, which will feature one-hour intimate conversations with tech entrepreneurs about their personal mental health experiences.

Says Tan: “One of the most impactful stories was from a founder who I really respect. Super accomplished, serial founder. This person shared with me a story about their breakdown, a time when things were so, so, so bad that they didn’t know if they would survive until the next day. This person told me the reason they’re alive and doing the work they do is because of one person who changed their life and said, ‘I’ll be the person who will hold the space and listen to your story.’ It just reminded me that this work really matters.”

As a for-profit social enterprise, Tan is able to do this work while generating revenue by crafting mental health strategies for founders and investors, speaking at companies and conferences, and providing mental health training at the executive level.

Tan’s forum is particularly useful for female founders who often face even more pressures. They struggle with being taken seriously, securing funding, finding a supportive network, combatting discrimination, coping with imposter syndrome—you name it. For Founders By Founders gives women entrepreneurs an outlet to openly talk about their struggles without shame, judgment, or guilt. Says Tan: “There’s a lot of masculine energy in this industry, and I feel like that’s why so many people are suffering is because they don’t have a connection to this softer side of themselves.”

Throughout her interviews, Tan noticed other patterns emerging. For instance, she discovered that anxiety and imposter syndrome tend to creep up when founders raise their first round of funding. And when founders exit their company, they often feel like they’ve lost their sense of identity and fall into depression and grief.

So now Tan is creating a playbook for tech founders that will lay out a roadmap of what to expect with their emotional and mental health journey from startup to acquisition.

“I’m really excited about this playbook,” says Tan. “I want to show people the way out of emotional suffering.”

If you are in an emergency, in crisis or need someone to talk to, please use these hotlines or call 911 immediately.


Cherry Rose Tan’s Reading Recommendations:

The Surrender Experiment

“Life-changing book. It talks about a nine-figure tech founder who decided to let go of control (as a paradigm for success), and how his life transformed on every level because of it. What happens if we start trusting ourselves and life, instead of fighting it? I found it powerful for shifting my perspective with adversity.”

The One Thing

“One of my favourite mindset books of all time. Written by the founder of the world’s largest real-estate firm, it explores the question: What is the one thing I can do such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary? It has been important for my mental health and in keeping me focused on what is most important.”


 

 

 

This article was generously sponsored by Startup Here Toronto


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Categories
Activism & Action Our Voices

This Amuse Bud’s For You

Reena Rampersad, Founder and Owner of High Society Supper Club, Hamilton, ON.

 

Reena Rampersad makes a killer cannabis-infused chimichurri sauce. Not only does she drizzle in some cannabis oil, she incorporates the non-psychoactive leaves to give it more texture and a boost of antioxidants. As the owner of the High Society Supper Club, Rampersad creates private dining experiences featuring all kinds of micro-dosed dishes – from amuse bouche (or is that amuse bud?) to infused butters, dressings for salads, sauces for mains, and fudge and cookies.

“It took me some time to experiment and figure out my menu,” says Rampersad, who lives in Hamilton, Ont. where her business is also based. “I asked friends on their day off if they could test out my recipes. That’s how I figured out how to dose properly. We started doing unofficial dinner parties. Then we did larger dinners and started bringing them to Toronto.”

Over the past several years, she has catered more than 100 supper parties for all sorts of clients, from corporate beverage companies to owners of resplendent mansions to family dinners. Buffets start at $55 per person, while table service is $65. She gets two to three bookings a week and has eight people on her payroll.

But there’s just one problem: Even though recreational cannabis is legal in Canada, it’s not yet legal for establishments to produce and sell cannabis-infused food and drinks. That legislation comes down October 17, 2019. So, for now, Rampersad runs the High Society Supper Club as a complementary service to her Limin’ Coconut catering company, which specializes in Indo-Caribbean cuisine. She had a license to operate since 2015. If a clients request an infused item, Rampersad must get them to provide their own cannabis while she provides the infusion service—at no extra charge.

“This is how we have to do it for now,” says Rampersad. “The irony is that the High Society is really what’s been taking off. People are interested in seeing what infused dining is all about. But I can’t officially operate as a business, which has been so hard because I could be paying my bills really, really well right now.”

It takes guts to run a business that occupies in such a quasi legal area, especially if you’re a woman of colour. Out of the 99 licensed cannabis companies in Canada who have public information available, only eight are headed by women.

Rampersad, who is the daughter of Trinidadian parents, says she’s often one of the only minorities at the cannabis conferences and panels she gets invited to, and, to her disappoint, discovered that there is not even much talk about diversity and inclusion. “All too often it’s a message that people are trying to censor out or don’t care about or are trying to silence,” says Rampersad. “When we talk about implementing change and creating an equitable industry, I don’t see how that’s possible if we don’t have that from the top down. If we only have one narrative being represented, that’s going to carry out everywhere else in terms of the images that are being marketed and the policies that are being created. It’s actually very alarming since cannabis is slotted to be the largest and most influential industry out there.”

Rampersad is pushing for change in her own ways. She prioritizes women and women of colour when hiring, and she pays her staff at least $15 an hour. She has also started organizing marketplace events where people can purchase products from vendors from marginalized communities and folks who have been affected by the long prohibition on cannabis, such as Rastafarian organizations and Indigenous exhibitors.

“This is how I’m able to work back in my social justice aspect since so many people are being left out of this newly emerging industry,” she says.

Working in the cannabis space isn’t just a political and professional endeavour—it’s also deeply personal. Rampersad has lost a number of family members to the war on drugs and the destructive policies that have negatively impacted marginalized communities. Growing up, she saw her father get accosted by the police for his cannabis use, over and over. What she learned from witnessing this was that the law enforcement could over look some dabbling in recreational use of cannabis before it was legal, but often came down hard on people of colour using the substance. “It’s enraging to see how racist it was in the beginning. It showed me that sometimes the law can be wrong.”

Wanting to right the wrongs of the past, Rampersad joined the Campaign For Cannabis Amnesty as a volunteer coordinator. The group’s main push right now is to convince the federal government to amend and pass Bill C-93 so that it gives expungements rather than pardons to Canadians convicted of simple possession of marijuana. With expungements the government would be admitting it was wrong in the and would permanently delete an individual’s criminal record. Pardons, on the other hand, would merely forgive individuals of their criminal past, but would not protect them from having their convictions reinstated or accidentally disclosed.

As for her High Society Supper Club, Rampersad looks forward to legalization of food and drink this fall but worries whether the legal framework will extend to grassroots companies such as her own.  Cannabis edibles alone could be a $4.1 billion market in Canada and the U.S. by 2022, with large companies vying for the action. It’s only fair that entrepreneurs like her get a taste of that too, she says. “We are the people that helped to build the demand and set certain standards. All we want is for them to include us too.”


 

Categories
Activism & Action

How to Kill Feminism

 

 

 

Photo by Vinopa Sivakumar

Well the good news is, you can’t kill feminism.

Many have tried and still are trying. From Phyllis Schlafly in the 1970s, to the likes of Jordan Peterson, Suzanne Venker, and Penny Nance who have also discovered that, unlike advocating for feminism, working to crush feminism has become a fast way to get an audience and make serious cash. But they will ultimately fail.

Here is why.

Because feminism lives in our hearts—not our pocketbooks.

It’s always a surprise to me to learn how few people realize feminism is both a gender equality movement and a set of values which serves to unleash undervalued human potential; its origins are rooted in compassion and love. From Maya Angelou to Louise Arbour to Zunera Ishaq, its history sparkles with stunning stories about overcoming man-made odds and finding the courage to speak truth to power despite searing personal risk. Though the mountain that feminists must negotiate to drive change is steep, rubbled, and treacherous, not to mention career and income limiting, its ethos is learning-centred, innovation-led and entrepreneurial– punctuated by brilliant bursts of Schumer-esque killer insight and humour along the way.

Feminism realizes that what humanity has today is not even close to having it all. Its passion for realizing the benefits of fresh alternatives to current systems is what fuels its persistence to ascend again and again—like Tomoyuki Tanaka’s gender non-confirming Godzilla, also a mother, who rises from the sea with a vengeance to defeat man-made monsters designed to do nothing but destroy and empower its masters.

If It Ain’t Working, Why Is It Still Here?

Against a backdrop of disruptive technological and political change in the past 100 years, women’s place in society has evolved little by comparison. We have cryptocurrency and driverless cars, but gender equality somehow still eludes us. There remains little appreciation for cultivating the power of the feminine in all of us. Bro culture operates like The Nothing in the movie The Neverending Story and is now even darkening the shores of the emerging cannabis industry—an industry built largely not by stoner-hippie, man-boy, Cheech & Chong types but professional and health-sector based entrepreneurial women inspired by its healing and wellness properties.

The winning political slogan these days is “Make (insert a regressive idea here) great again.” Its adherents dismiss the concerns of feminism. And, while some women (mostly the culturally or economically privileged ones) have enjoyed more opportunity in recent decades, the vast majority of them, as well as gender non-conformists, continue to struggle against entrenched cultural bias that systemically devalues them and strips away their potential to contribute to improving our world.

Setbacks, in any fight for deep change, are commonplace.

Fortunately, the feminism movement is robust, resilient and, look out, tech-enabled. The movement’s integrative thinkers learn at the speed of the latest AI bot. Its tiny but mighty organizations competently leverage full-stack development concepts to amplify its impact. Effective feminism at the same time wisely uses 18th-century change-making chisels such as encouraging face-to-face dialogue and promoting evidence-based critical thought and constructive discourse. The movement charges into the 21st century thoroughly intersectional, inclusive, and multicultural, which in these challenging times empowers feminism to spread and build community like commensal lichens. Today, feminism is an all-gender movement. It is an open-source, multi-node, and networked operating system that makes the loins of Linux enthusiasts actually quiver.

Feminism isn’t a goal post. It’s a set of values, a way of thinking, a nurturing community, and a way of living. That’s how it endures even when obstacles continue to crop up and progress seems slow.

Levelling Up: Introducing the Feminist City

What might a whole feminist city achieve if current grassroots feminist communities, media, enterprise, and art collectives successfully helped its members thrive and flourish in ways that are impossible within the dominant system? What if we all worked to advance feminist values?

Back in the 1990s, academic Richard Florida made a name for himself by introducing the idea that dying cities can turn themselves around by attracting creative class workers to drive economic growth. His theory? Cities or regions that embraced differences, supported innovation, and enabled human development and wellness would attract the creative class who in turn would attract new investment to the city thereby unleashing new economic growth. While scholars debated the specific index’s metrics, the theory, when put into practice in dying rust belt cities like Buffalo and Detroit, apparently worked.

Can we make the same argument for feminist cities? Can we replace Florida’s three Ts (talent, technology, and tolerance) with the three Es: equity, equality, and eclectic? If cultural capital drives wellness and growth, could feminist capital do the same?

If we think about these three Es and the underlying metrics, one could argue that Toronto might well be on its way to becoming a leading global feminist city. First off, Toronto is in Canada, which already ranks high on global gender equality indexes. This gives us a decided advantage even over the U.S.’s “best” feminist cities.

But there’s more. Toronto is home to long-established feminist organizations as well as new initiatives such as Ilene Sova’s Feminist Art Collective (2013); T.O.FemCo Toronto Feminist Collective (2015); Sarah Kaplan’s Institute for Gender and the Economy at the Rotman School of Management (2016); the first Canadian Women’s Chamber of Commerce (2017); Gender Equality Network (2017); Aerin Fogel’s Venus Fest (2017); Canada’s first self-identified feminist hotel, Gladstone; and the world’s first and now annual Entrepreneurial Feminist Forum (2017).

Toronto is also home to the now global SheEO initiative (2015), The Big Push (2016), a women-led investment fund, and a long list of other initiatives that seek to rebalance access to startup incubators and venture capital for women entrepreneurs. We also have new feminist media including Nasty Women’s Press (2017), GUTS magazine (2015) and, of course, LiisBeth (2016), which, in two years, has profiled more than 40 feminist entrepreneurs who rock this city.

Does feminist capital matter? To draw a direct link would take funded research (hint, hint). But we do know that Toronto is one of the top-performing cities in the world on several measures. Coincidence? We think not.

If feminist capital can be linked to social wellness and economic prosperity, killing or even diminishing feminism should a crime.

Has a Feminist Epoch Finally Arrived?

Against atrocities like the internment of children in the U.S., scary displays of bro-culture fist bumps between Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump, the recently tallied declining numbers of women CEOs in 2018, and rollbacks on environmental and equity-oriented policy in Ontario, the fact is feminism looks better than ever. It may well be the defining movement of this century. Yes, we have Trumpification spreading around the globe plus mini-me Ford Nation. But fellow feminists everywhere, take heart. Hobbes’s Leviathan may be in the house. But Godzilla has been called out of the sea. And ze is a feminist.

If we persist, there will be no slithering back.


Additional Reading

https://www.liisbeth.com/2018/03/15/another-brick-in-the-wall/

https://www.liisbeth.com/2017/10/06/when-a-catalyst-becomes-an-inhibitor/

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LIISBETH DISPATCH #42

VIEWPOINT

Aren’t Anti-Feminists Feminists Too? 

At first, I had to do a double take. Did I read that right?

In an article titled “Liberals Accused of Using Feminism as Political Weapon,” Rachael Harder, a Conservative critic for the Status of Women and former successful dog kennel entrepreneur in Lethbridge, Alberta, complained that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberal government were—get this—hogging feminism.

If you read the rest of the piece published in the Ottawa Citizen on May 7, you essentially learn that she is concerned the Liberals are doing too many good feminist things, leaving little room for those who define feminism differently. For example, “feminists” who are anti-abortion, don’t believe the pay gap exists, and believe equality is possible without also addressing equity.

Can a word mean anything you want it to mean?

These days, it would appear that the Progressive Conservatives (Canada’s official opposition party) are noticing that aligning one’s identity with feminism gets votes, and they desperately want access to some of that firepower. Some, invoking the Humpty-Dumpty principle of definitions, are suggesting that how one defines feminism is a matter of personal choice. Translation: even anti-feminists are feminists too. #AllFeminismsMatter

If you were old enough to watch the ERA debate unfold in the media in the 1970s, this attempt by anti-feminists to hijack feminism is probably making you feel like you just ate a bad brownie and saw Rod Serling sit next to you holding a cigarette.

Next stop, the Twilight Zone. Even Phyliss Schlafly, North America’s iconic and proud-to-be conservative anti-feminist who mobilized conservative women and successfully blocked the passing of the ERA amendment, is probably rolling over in her grave.

What is additionally odd about watching Canadian political candidates—and even corporate leaders of all stripes and genders—scurrying about to also be known as feminists is that, until recently, the very term was considered the other “F” word. To call yourself a feminist threatened your career and could clear the room like a bad smell. Several polls from that dark pre-2015 era showed that only a minority of Canadian women (ranging from 10 to 32% depending on the survey) and even fewer men identified as feminists.

But here we are just three years later and people are actually lining up to be pinned a feminist as though it’s an Order of Canada being bestowed. One survey even shows that today, there are more men identifying as feminist than women in Canada.

Think about that for a moment.

It’s great that the word feminism has been suddenly embraced by so many, so fast. But reductively, I say shame on thinly veiled opportunists looking to reduce, redact, and reframe a living movement whose proponents were, not too long ago, roundly vilified and socially punished, just to win today’s vote or sell products.

Some women died fighting for women’s rights. Thousands more died because they didn’t have rights at all.

Feminism. Not Just a Word.

Feminism is a 200-year-old movement justice and rights-based movement and here’s the kicker-an enormous body of work that, when translated at a societal level, imagines a safer, more inclusive world that can only be made possible by fundamentally eradicating gender inequality. There are many pixel level undertakings that make up its colourful landscape, but there is undeniably one shared photo of the goal.

Then as now, feminists of all genders across the globe continue to work hard to challenge, replace, and evolve systems and cultural beliefs that reinforce all forms of gender-based oppression. They are guided by a shared set of values that prioritize gender equality and equity, generosity, inter-independence, economic inclusion, intersectionality, and most importantly, agency.

The latter is key and implies a woman’s control over her own body, health, and right to determine her future.

If the candidate in your area, or anyone for that matter, doesn’t respect or speak about any of this, they ain’t a feminist. Don’t be conned.


THIS WEEK ON LIISBETH
Kartrina McKay

When You Need Help As An Entrepreneur, Who You Gonna Call?

Feminist entrepreneurs with advancing enterprises are looking for two things: 1) help! and 2) the opportunity to support women-led enterprises that can provide that help.

That is where serial feminist entrepreneur Katrina McKay comes in. Her new enterprise, Uplevel Solutions, is an outsourcing enterprise for entrepreneurs. Think TaskRabbit, but with fair wage practices and a trained female staff that makes outsourcing hassle free. You can learn more about Katrina and how to level up here.


Lex Schroder

What Makes An Event a Feminist Event?

Event planning for the fall is in full swing for many activist entrepreneurial feminists. So the timing is right to ask the question: what makes an event a feminist event, that is, other than the subject matter or the nature of the community that gathers?

In this months’ refresh, co-producer of the Entrepreneurial Feminist Forum and our newest contributor, Lex Schroeder (pictured above), noted five feminist event design practices that worked. Schroeder shares her insights and experiences here.

The 2018 Entrepreneurial Feminist Forum will be held on Sunday, December 2 and Monday, December 3, 2018 at Daniels Spectrum, 585 Dundas Street East, Toronto, ON. Save the date!


FIELDNOTES

Off the Radar: A Special Report by LiisBeth for YOU!

Back in March, we set out on a quest to create a list of active women and other gender minority entrepreneurship support clubs, meetups, investor groups, and networking bands that do not currently exist on other mainstream lists. Why? Because here at LiisBeth, we receive inquiries every day from women and feminist entrepreneurs of all genders about where they can find support for ventures and startups that don’t fit the dominant mould of startups that are typically male-led, low-cap, extreme growth, or flip-it-to-make-it-oriented, which get most of the attention in today’s mainstream entrepreneurship ecosystem.

The good news is that this is changing thanks to dozens of initiatives by activist women entrepreneurs and investors looking to support and grow high, multi–bottom line alternative innovations and ventures. In a few short days, we were able to list over 100 amazing groups working across Canada to help entrepreneurs.

You can get a copy of the summary report here.

If you would like to download the Excel spreadsheet or add/edit the list, please visit our Excel spreadsheet on Google Docs here. Tell us and the LiisBeth community that you exist!

And if you appreciate the work that we are doing to surface the feminist and women’s entrepreneurship community, please consider donating $3, $7 or $10 a month via Patreon or our subscribers’ page. It will help us do even more!


The Ontario Election: Who to Vote For?

Last week, Toronto’s NOW Magazine called the election a “crapshoot.” And while all three candidates have legitimately icky unelectable baggage piled high on their backs, there are three questions that LiisBeth suggests you consider before heading to the polls:

  • Which candidate genuinely cares about advancing gender equity, inclusion, and innovation in this province?

  • Which candidate would you at least even mildly enjoy being stuck in an elevator with for four hours?

  • Which candidate even mentions advancing equity for Ontario women, and specifically women entrepreneurs in his or her campaign/platform?

To find out what initiatives, if any, each party has documented in its platform for the advancement of women entrepreneurs, we made the effort to reach out and ask.

The first to respond was Kathleen Wynne’s campaign team. And in less than an hour, they sent us an entire document—hot off the press! You can find it here.

Highlights for women entrepreneurs include the creation of an Ontario Women’s Entrepreneurship Association to increase women’s access and opportunity to scale up and expand ventures, and $500+ to support additional women entrepreneur programs and the advancement of entrepreneurship opportunities for girls in high schools. The document also highlights new investments in child care, elder care, and ending gender-based violence. Andrea Horwath’s NDP government is also committed to investing in child care and Ontario women.

To find out what the Progressive Conservatives, aka Ford Nation (led by Doug Ford), is planning for women, we decided to ask him directly via Twitter (see below) as he has yet to release a platform. We have not heard anything from Ford Nation yet (24 hours later), but let’s give them more time. At the moment of writing this newsletter, Ford has yet to reveal or articulate his platform, but we have some idea of how he views women’s rights by reviewing articles and his voting history.

As of today, we could find no up-to-date, post-March articles or news on Doug Ford’s initiatives related to women entrepreneurs—or women at all.

What about the NDP? We know Horwath is also committed to investing in child care in Ontario but were unable to find information regarding the party’s initiatives related to women’s entrepreneurship on its platform website. We did, however, find an initiative to revitalize the horse racing sector. Cool. But #odd

In our opinion, the Green Party and its leader Mike Schreiner would likely win question #1 and the “stuck in an elevator” question most of the time for a lot of people. Being stuck in an elevator with him might also be the only way we get to hear him talk given his unfortunate exclusion from the televised debate.

The Greens are often thought of as just a pro-environment party, but the Ontario Greens these days are smartly positioning themselves as a pro–social enterprise, triple–bottom line party. Uniquely, they support the introduction of a hybrid for-profit and non-profit legal form (like the U.S.-based Benefit corporation option). Like the Liberals and the NDP, they also support expanded child care and elder care support plus strategies to advance pay equity. At present, they do not have a specific program laid out for the advancement of women entrepreneurs.

Well, that’s our roundup regarding each party’s plans for women entrepreneurs. And if you feel there is any bias in our report, we admit that there is. #AnyoneButDoug

Now it’s up to you to go and vote.


Make Lemonade

In April, LiisBeth checked out Make Lemonade, the newest inclusive-yet-women-centred co-working space in Toronto, which opened in September 2017. The space was founded by Rachel Kelly, a 26-year-old Toronto gig economy entrepreneur who saw the growth in gendered co-working spaces as a promising new venture opportunity.

The space is fun, airy, and light. Its offerings are similar to co-working spaces in town. And the good news? It doesn’t exude that misguided “girl boss” sorority brand concept (unlike WeWork’s The Wing, a women’s co-working social club that opens in Toronto later this year).

As with all these spaces, it’s really not the decor or yoga classes that count, it’s about who’s in those spaces, the vibe, and the reflection of values held by the people who founded, occupy, and animate the space.

To see if Make Lemonade is your scene, check it out for yourself by signing up for a tour here.


Feminism and AI (Artificial Intelligence)

Meet Dr. Parinaz Sobhani (above), director of machine learning at the University of Ottawa and LiisBeth’s latest feminist-woman-in-tech crush!

Iranian-born Dr. Sobhani was the keynote speaker at the launch of Inspiring Fifty, a new award established in Canada to celebrate inspirational female role models in tech and innovation. Her talk, “Importance of Diversity in AI,” was both chilling and a call to action.

While the technology can overcome gender bias and risk of misused data, it will take the will and vigilance of humans to ensure that it does. We need a feminist-leaning watchdog organization in Canada.

Interested in being part of an initiative to start one? Email us and mention AI Watchdog in the subject line.

To hear part of Dr. Sobhani’s speech, click on the approximately seven-minute audio file here.


LiisBeth Is Hiring!

Eeek! Our little feminist media startup is growing so we need a little more help.

We are currently looking for a three- to six-month contract freelance newsletter editor. Ideally, the newsletter editor will be someone with exceptional writing, critical thinking, and research skills, have a women’s studies, journalism, or gender studies background, plus demonstrated familiarity with WordPress, MailChimp, and Canva or Adobe Photoshop. The workload is anticipated to be about 10 to 20 hours per month (less in the summer). The pay is $40/hour.

Since we have begun, we have published more than 125 articles, 37 newsletters, and provided fair wage income opportunities for more than 35 feminist-leaning freelance writers, editors, illustrators, and photographers.

Lots of groups are working on moving the dial for women. But we go beyond that. As a feminist organization, we work for economic, social, and political systems change. As a community of feminist entrepreneurs, we work to drive change through the power of entrepreneurship and innovation.

For more on our work and impact, you can download LiisBeth’s 2017 Impact Report. The job description is available here.

Preference will be given to applicants who actually read this publication. Duh.

If you are interested in joining our community in this capacity, please e-mail your resume and link to best writing examples to publisher@liisbeth.com by May 15, 2018.


WHAT WE’RE READING

This book covers important issues facing Indigenous people: violence against women, recovery of Indigenous self-determination, racism, misogyny, and decolonization. This new edition also covers Indigenous resurgence; feminism amongst the Sami and Aboriginal Australians; neo-liberal restructuring in Oaxaca; Canada’s settler racism and sexism; and missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada.

Okay, so the City of Toronto and Google’s Sidewalk Labs organization are working on designing an amazing new Jetson-like district on the Toronto Waterfront in an effort to explore what the city of tomorrow might actually be like. At present, the vision includes driverless cars. Once you read Elly Blue’s Bikenomics, you will soon be wondering why any vision of an urban future has to include cars at all.


AND FINALLY…IN CASE YOU MISSED IT!
  • This month’s uncommon find? Check out Feminist Economics Yoga, a fusion of yoga, capitalist, and feminist economics taught by Cassie Thornton, a yoga instructor, feminist thought leader, and activist artist from Thunder Bay, Ontario. According to Thornton’s website, she teaches kundalini yoga while also instructing students on issues related to money, debt, race, gender, and class. You can read her article over at Guts Magazine.
  • Kelly Diels, a Vancouver-based feminist marketing guru (our word, not hers) writes in her last newsletter: “For a long time, I’ve been encouraging the people I write for and the authors and entrepreneurs I work with to share what they truly know—even when it’s polarizing.” Despite its challenges, Diels believes you can succeed. Most of us know first-hand that mixing business with feminist systems change work is dicey stuff. Succeeding requires unique insight—and Diels has this in spades. If you are not following Diels’ newsletter, you are missing out.
  • The new anti-harassment Bill (C-65) is in its final stages. As a feminist entrepreneur, it is important to be up on the facts and the discussions. It’s not perfect, but its good. You can read the latest point of view on the bill (published by CUPE) here.

CAN’T MISS EVENTS

Black Women in Tech
Saturday, May 19, 2018
2:00 PM–4:00 PM
Bitmaker
220 King Street West, Unit 200, Toronto
Cost: By Donation

I Love You Mary Jane: Women, Weed and Wellness
Wednesday, May 30, 2018
7:00 PM–9:30 PM
Shecosystem Coworking + Wellness
703 Bloor Street West, Toronto
Cost: $20. Register here.

Startup & Slay: Panel & Meetup With Diverse Female Entrepreneurs 
Wednesday, May 30, 2018
6:00 PM–9:30 PM
Spaces
180 John Street, Toronto
Cost: $45-50. Register here.

Financial Planning for Entrepreneurs: Learn About Cash Flow Management
Wednesday, May 30, 2018
10:00 AM–11:30 AM
Verity Club
111D Queen Street East, Toronto
Cost: $15. Register here.

The Big Push Expert Series: Best Hiring Practices to Increase Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace
Thursday, May 31, 2018
6:30 PM–9:30 PM
Uberflip
370 Dufferin Street, Toronto
Cost: $15–$250. Register here.

Walking Your Why: Discovering Your Values Perspectives
Thursday, June 14, 2018
6:00 PM–8:00 PM
School for Social Entrepreneurs
720 Bathurst Street, Toronto
Cost: $0-50. Register here.


That brings us to the end of our May newsletter. The next newsletter is scheduled for late June 2018. In the meantime, follow us on Twitter, Tumblr or Facebook for updates, news, and provocative views.

You can also watch for new feature articles on feminist outsourcing plus more this month at www.liisbeth.com.

If you are looking for an easy way to support feminist entrepreneurs, look no further than considering a subscription to LiisBeth! We humbly remind you that subscriptions are $3/month, $7/month or $10/month.

If you would like us to promote your event, we are happy to do so if it suits our readers’ interests! It’s free for current subscriber donors; for non-donors there is a one-time donation of $25 per listing.

We accept PayPal and credit cards. And we also now have a Patreon page!

Funds go directly towards paying writers, editors, proofreaders, photo permission fees, and illustrators. LiisBeth needs your love—and financial support.

In the meantime: stay bold, be safe.

Petra Kassun-Mutch
Founding Publisher, LiisBeth